NEW YORK, May 29, 2013 ― While the nation continues to come to grips with gun-control issues raised by the Newtown, Connecticut murders, New York faces its own set of problems. Attempts to curb gun availability alone failed to curb gun violence, and New York communities and police have been forced to ask, what else must we do? The costs associated with gun violence affect not only the victims and their families, but the entire neighborhood as well, and attempts to limit it have forced New Yorkers to ask some hard questions about guns, race and police profiling.
Typically in the inner-city, young men and adolescents carry illegal firearms for the purpose of revenge and direct retaliation for harms real and perceived done to them. They give very little thought to the impact that using those guns will have on their communities.
New York Police Department crime data suggest that New York City’s recent attempt to conduct gun buyback programs resulted in more than 200,000 firearms being removed from the streets. However, murder rates continued to rise. Desperate to find another way to reduce the violence, the NYPD introduced a program popularly called “stop and frisk.”
The idea behind stop and frisk is to target individuals who “look” likely to commit a crime. New York Police officers are given full autonomy to decide who to stop, and are allowed to stop and pat-down people because of their appearance, dress, behavior and so on. Skeptics of stop and frisk have objected loudly to this police tactic, especially in the media. The raw data on stop-and-frisk give the impression that police deliberately single out black and Latino minorities.
Brooklyn residents have supported many of these initiatives, recognizing that the impact of crime, and especially gun-related gang violence, on their neighborhoods is too powerful to ignore. Local residents need law enforcement agencies to develop new strategies to expand public safety and reduce youth violence.
The reality is that most gun violence, especially involving youth, takes place in lower income black neighborhoods. Sadly, most of this is black-on-black crime, and that’s why the numbers on stop and frisk are so skewed to young black and Latino men. The choice is either to accept random acts of violence against the innocent, or accept random calculated stops by the police that help reduce the threat of violence.
The NYPD believes that stop and frisk is necessary to guarantee that local residents are safe in high-crime areas. They believe that knowing that this practice really deters violent crime should help residents accept it. But outreach efforts are required to help minority populations understand that this isn’t simply an attempt to demonstrate to white citizens that the police are zealously going after crime by targeting black citizens.
In New York, “The All Stars Project,” an organization started by political activist Dr. Lenora Fulani, creates an effective and cost-efficient strategy for successfully getting youth and the members of the NYPD to work together. Seven years ago, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and All Stars Project staff came together in Harlem to promote the “Cops and Kids: Operation Conversation Initiative.” The program’s purpose centered on improving police-community relations and decreasing tension between police officers and young people. Since 2006, Operation Cops and Kids has proven to be an effective strategy for making neighborhoods safer and reducing crime in New York City. The All Stars Project’s strategy could be executed in any major city, promoting police involvement with the communities they serve.
Community based not-for-profits can help expand public safety and improve the dialogue between adolescents and law enforcement. Programs like “All Stars” directly re-evaluate and address gun violence and racial profiling, both issues affecting public safety. New York’s policing revolution, which began in 1993, illustrates this point. Poverty and unemployment were higher in New York than in the nation as a whole over the last decade, whereas New York’s rates of drug use, crime, rapes, and armed robbery fell.
So what has changed? The NYPD’s style of policing has changed. Since the days of Mayor Giuliani, local police departments and precincts have deployed officers to neighborhoods where law-abiding residents have been victimized. Stop and frisk has been a vital tool in their arsenal. As residents learn more about the program and see the positive impact it has had on their neighborhoods, they are more likely to support it.
One purpose of stop and frisk is to minimize spur-of-the-moment shootings and conflicts. For example, street gang members avoid carrying firearms in order to avoid a gun possession arrest if they’re stopped. Under both Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg, the city’s crime rates for all boroughs have dropped 82 percent from 1993 to 2010.
Being stopped when you are innocent can be a humiliating experience. If there is a more effective method of deterring crime, then the police should adopt it. Until then, New York’s most vulnerable residents are enjoying more and more their right to freedom from assault, crime and harassment, thanks to law enforcement’s assertive style of policing.
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